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The "Dementia" Talk

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

Confronting a loved one who’s exhibiting signs of dementia is very difficult, but having the tough conversation can lead to an earlier diagnosis. Early intervention has many benefits, and some lifestyle changes can potentially help preserve brain function.

When my uncle started putting the milk in the kitchen cabinet and sugar in the fridge, my cousin knew something was amiss. He called me and described incidents that were clearly signs of dementia. After a long conversation filled with despair and doubt, my cousin was unsure how to talk to his father about this reality, and was reluctant even to ask him to make an appointment with their family physician. I am pretty sure this is not a unique situation.

So, when do I start suspecting dementia? you might ask. The Alzheimer’s Association identifies 10 early signs and symptoms of dementia that can help Alzheimer’s experts and medical professionals diagnose dementia earlier:

1. Challenges in planning or problem-solving

2. Changes in mood and personality

3. Confusion with place or time

4. Difficulty completing familiar tasks

5. Memory loss that disrupts daily life

6. Misplacing objects

7. New problems with communication

8. Poor judgment

9. Trouble understanding spatial relationships and visual images

10. Withdrawal from social activities

If your loved one is exhibiting dementia symptoms, it is crucial to have the talk with them as soon as possible. Here's how I would try to start the conversation:

1. Do not procrastinate!

When you notice the signs and symptoms, say something. Don't leave it for later.

2. Choose the right setting and time

If you know the person well, you may know what works best for them. Choose a time when they are least likely to be stressed and more likely to be open to an honest conversation. If there is a certain person who has a positive influence on your loved one, consider asking that person to be with you or have the conversation privately.

To start the conversation, say something like: I was wondering if you’ve noticed the same changes in your behaviour that I’ve noticed? or, Would you want to know if I noticed any concerning changes in your behaviour?

3. Try and try until you succeed

The conversation may not go the way you want it to, but don't give up. Your loved one may not be willing to discuss the changes you have noticed. They may be angry or defensive. Don’t force the conversation. Try to bring up the conversation later.

4. Anticipate denial

Someone experiencing the signs of early dementia may not see the symptoms in themselves. Be prepared to see your loved one showing signs of confusion, denial and withdrawal.

5. Offer your support

Seeing a doctor to discuss the symptoms can feel overwhelming. Let your loved one know that you will be there for them and are willing accompany them on doctor visits if possible. Show your support and keep checking-in on them throughout the diagnosis and treatment plan.

If you continue to struggle to get your loved one to see a doctor, see if this article helps:

Resources for Dementia:

Govt. of Canada - Dementia

Alzheimer Society - Toronto

As always, your comments and queries are welcome. Feel free to connect with me through or email me at

The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.

*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.

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